Martin Scorcese needs no introduction in the world of Cinema, nor do Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. If you’re inclined to think that a movie that featured all these names on the title card should’ve been named The Italians, you wouldn’t be entirely in the wrong, considering the collective cinematic history of these gentlemen and their ethnicities too, if I may. While De Niro and Pesci were part of Scorcese’s cinematic textbooks on the workings of the Mafia on more than one occasion, Pacino found himself being part of the most iconic films on the mob ever, The Godfather Trilogy, along with De Niro. De Niro and Pacino did face off again on screen in their prime in the magnus opus of that other master of urban thrillers, Michael Mann. That’s Heat I’m talking about yeah and plotwise, De Niro gets his cinematic revenge here in The Irishman, so to speak. Now, who would’ve thought that these stalwarts would come together to make history – or so we are told – in what is being marketed as almost a swansong, on a streaming service, the home video entertainment of our times. I’m not being elitist when I say that I’m absolutely cool with Adam Sandler doing originals for Netlfix but when you add Scorcese to the list, I must say, I I do have my reservations. Is Netflix getting bigger by the year or is Scorese diminishing himself here, I can’t but help wonder. I do binge shamelessly on Netflix but I’m a bit old school too I guess. But then again when you realise that despite the kind of original work he had to his name, it took a remake to win Scorecese that elusive Oscar of his, nothing should come as a surprise to you about the man and his work anymore.
The Irishman, in keeping with the tradition of Scorcese gangster movies, relies on first person narrative tell the story. And that story being that of Frank Sheeran and his buddy Jimmy Hoffa. The film, we have been told, is based on a book I Heard You Paint Houses, about Sheeran’s life and times as a mob enforcer incognito. De Niro plays Sheeran and Pacino plays Hoffa, a union activist with links to the mob and Pesci plays Russel Buffalino, who happens to be the certified mobster, of the three lead characters. Hoffa disappeared in the mid 70s and the movie explores Sheerans claim in the book that he had executed Hoffa on behalf of the mob. This tale obviously presented Scorcese with ample material to explore his favorite themes and when you find out that the movie is his longest at 200 odd minutes, you know the man has indulged himself here. The film tells a story that spans across three timelines which brings us to the much talked about digital de-ageing of the lead actors. Pacino looked the youngest of the trio and no de- ageing software could hide the fact that De Niro kicks like the old gentleman he is, but it works. In an interesting twist, there’s digital ageing at work too, we get to see a much older Domenick Lombardozzi, whom I saw most recently, playing his age in Mrs.Fletcher. Maybe deepfake just got legit here thanks to Netflix, for all I know. A time when digital versions of your favorite actors star in roles and attain immortality in digial Valhalla is not afar, if you ask me. The Irishman apart from being the most CGI laden of all Scorcese films ever is also his most political one to date. Had this movie come out in the ” pre-post truth ” era, it would have raised more brows than it did today, considering the tantalising suggestions it makes about a most pivotal moment in American political history as we know it. But I guess the internet has beaten Scorecese at the shock factor game, he should just try sticking to his usual routine of blood and gore next time maybe. At the core of the film are the themes of loyalty and redemption, rather the lack thereof. The moral compass of the film, i felt was the character of Sheeran’s daughter and it explores the dynamics of the relationships the three main protagonists had with her.
Though De Niro and Pesci do get their moments in the film that does justice to their reputation, it’s Pacino who is on a roll here – pun unintended. He is on fire and trust me, it’s not any de-ageing software at work here. His character is almost the good guy in the story and has been written as the most dignified of the lot. Hoffa was a leader apart from many other things and Pacino truly transforms himself into one convincingly on screen and in fact the role has earned him his first Academy Award nomination in close to three decades. Pesci is almost adorable in his mobster turn for the first time but he does bring the meance from his heydays to the screen briefly , with a restraint that comes with age I guess, which also brings me to the writing by Steven Zallian. The man has an impressive resume indeed and he might very well pick up his second Academy Award this time around for his work on The Irishman. Though I have lost count of the times De Niro has played a mobster Frank Sheeran has to be his most uninteresting gangster character. I mean, considering the fact that the man played Capone with such viciousness, a young Don Corleone with such intensity and Noodles with a touch of sensitivity, Sheeran is too one-dimensional a character for the actor, i felt. Aleksa Palladino plays Sheerans first wife whom he leaves for his second, played by Stephanie Kurtzuba. Anna Paquin plays the older version of the daughter. Scorsese may have tried to portray the contrasting lifestyles and attitudes of the wives and the daughters I think. The wives are more or less oblivious to the nature of the professions of the husbands but it’s the children who are shown to be affected. Coming back to the lead characters, one could almost draw a parallel with Matt Damon’s corrupt mole of a cop from The Departed to De Niro’s Sheeran. They do what they have to do and you are not exactly sure if they are remoresful though they expect to be forgiven for their acts. Pacino’s Hoffa in the same breath is an endearing and vulnerable character, much like Di Caprio’s undercover cop in that film. At the end of the day, this film is indeed a one of a kind cinematic event on many levels and aspects and any movie afficionado worth his salt would swear by it. Scorecese and Co. may have mellowed, but they definitely havn’t lost steam.